Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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August 16, 2023

How to Escape Imposter Syndrome in Your Writing Life

Image is a face facing left and a face facing right. Suggesting we sometimes have two faces, one we show and one we don't.

There’s a lot written about Imposters Syndrome. Most of it attempts to reassure us that feeling like an imposter is normal. I’m not here to argue with that. But too many of us do not realize how deviously imposter syndrome can invade your creative life. Or how to overcome the syndrome.

Imposter Syndrome Defined

Clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes first coined the term Imposter Syndrome (I.S.) in 1978. According to Wikipedia, the Imposter Syndrome is “a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. It is not an officially recognized psychological disorder and is not among the conditions described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, but it has been the subject of numerous books and articles by psychologists and educators.” 

There was a time when we believed more women suffered from the Imposter Syndrome than men did. Unfortunately, time has shown that no one is immune to these feelings. It happens to all creatives, including writers, to celebrities, to politicians, to tradespeople, and to stay-at-home parents. And the phenomenon has been around for a long time.


Remember when Sally Field accepted the Oscar with her statement, “You like me. You really, really like me!” Yup. That’s a sign of that Imposter Syndrome. Aw, you say, she’s an actress, she doesn’t count. So how about Albert Einstein who said, “The secret of creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.” Or former President Woodrow Wilson when he said, “I use not only all the brains I have but all that I can borrow.”

Signs of Imposter Thinking

Imposter Syndrome is sneaky. It’s not always the same signs or the same way of thinking. Your brain is clever that way. It devises new ways to “protect” you. Here are some thoughts that suggest you have Imposter Syndrome.

  • Diminishing your accomplishments by saying something like “it’s not a big deal.”
  • You quit your job soon after a promotion that you felt you didn’t deserve.
  • Creating a perfect story, aka perfectionism, keeps you from completing your work. 
  • You procrastinate on things to be done. If it isn’t done, then you can’t be “found out.”
  • Insomnia and migraines have been called symptoms of imposter syndrome as well. (Please, if you are having physical symptoms such as insomnia or migraines, seek medical attention to rule out other causes for those symptoms.)
  • You look at another writer’s awards and accolades or best seller rank and think you will never be as good. You are suffering from comparison-itis, another form of imposter thinking.
  • Writer’s Block has many causes. But it can be a sign of this syndrome, especially if your thoughts are leading you to believe this temporary stoppage means you aren’t a real writer. 
  • Finally, in extreme cases, there are some who take refuge in more destructive behaviors like addiction to alcohol or drugs. Please seek professional therapy for these types of behaviors.

The Neuroscience of Imposter Syndrome

Psychologists have identified four main primal drives that helped all animals, including humans, survive. They are: fight, flight, feed, and mate. 

Few people dispute humans would not have survived much of the last two thousand years without our fight and flight mechanism. Fortunately, early humans developed a very strong, instinctual way of reacting to the threat of death that they lived with every day. 

This means that our brains instinctively give the highest priority to these drives. Instinctively, our brains look for reasons we must fight to survive first, and if fighting isn’t survivable, we instantly take flight. Once we no longer need fight-or-flight, our brains will prioritize feeding ourselves in order to survive. Finally, we mate to ensure our survival. 

Luckily, some of us have moved beyond the physical fight for survival. Many of us do not have to fight off a bear or lion or other imminent death threat. But even when we don’t have a physical death threat at our door, our brains still have that fight-or-flight instinct. So our brains look for the next “best” threat and turn it into a life-and-death issue. 

We may know logically that the “threat” is not that kind of situation, but we don’t start with our thinking-brain. We start with our feeling-brain. And we feel afraid. 

When we feel afraid, our brain kicks in the fight-or-flight instinct. We act to protect ourselves. Unfortunately, what we think is protective is not helpful in the least. But we don’t know it because our feeling brain tells our thinking brain what think and those thoughts become what we believe. Notice that there’s no logic built into our instincts. 

The good news is that we can do something. We can learn from our fears and eventually believe differently. 

Ways to Supercharge Your Writing Life Against I.S.

Stop the Argument

If the number one culprit responsible for how we behave is our feelings, how do our feelings usually manifest themselves? Self-talk. Our brains start a running dialogue that reinforces the fear of that death threat (real or not). To combat the Imposter Syndrome, we need to counteract that running dialog based on fear.

There are many ways to address our fearful, negative self-talk. First, we have to notice it. This might mean you need to meditate on the thoughts and feelings you are experiencing. Journaling may help or reading self-help books or courses. Always check the bona fides of any book or mentor or therapist before choosing one. Professional organizations are the best option for finding reputable sources of help. 

If your negative self-talk includes suicidal thoughts, to talk with a therapist now. If you don’t have one or cannot afford one, reach out to your nearest public health department, your church, or in the U.S., call 988 (English and Spanish). Outside the US, try this list of international hotlines. 

On the August 6, 2023 episode of the Writing Excuses podcast, actress and writer, Kirsten Vangsness, discussed Imposter Syndrome. She suggested you can stop the argument by acknowledging you are an imposter. She says she understands that there is a part of her that constantly is trying to destroy her. Knowing that, she can recognize that self-talk and learn how to deflect or defeat it.

By acknowledging that she is an imposter, Kirsten is embracing her fear. Sometimes, simply saying I’m afraid is enough to help diminish that fear enough so you can move through the fear. 

Reframe Negative Thoughts 

Reframing is a psychological “trick” to turn a negative thought into a positive one. 

Example 1: 

Negative: Author XYZ sells more books than I do. I must not be a good enough writer.

Positive: Even though she sells more books than I, I still sell books. 

Example 2: 

Negative: I can’t take a break. If I’m not writing, I am not a writer.

Positive: Surgeons go on vacation and they’re still a surgeon. Ergo, writers can go on vacation (or take a break) and still be writers.

You can use this technique to quell any negative thoughts you wish to change. It’s not an instant fix, but over time, it can make a vast difference in your thoughts.


Recognize your bravery and your persistence. Writer, you are brave when you act in the face of unreasonable fear. Believing you aren’t good enough is a fear. Continuing to write despite that belief/fear is an act of bravery.

You are persistent when you take the hits and keep moving toward your writing goals. No matter how small the hit to your writer's pride or identity, you keep writing. That’s persistence.

Life can derail your writing for a time. But honor what you have done. You have written. Honor what you are doing — you’re still learning, you’re still writing. The derailment doesn’t define you. You are a writer.

Know Your Why

You wouldn’t be here if you weren’t passionate about writing. But do you know your why? Why is writing the thing that makes you feel most alive and full of purpose? Do you have a message you want to share? Do you want to entertain? Why? Dig deep. When you know why you want to write it will help you fight imposter syndrome because it gives you focus. And it will keep you keep coming back to that focus.

If you feel you’ve lost your way, perhaps your why has changed. That’s okay. As we learn and grow and write more and more, our why often will change. 

Find your why and it will be your center and your compass. 

Feed the Writer’s Well

You’ve got to take care of all of you. There are four parts of each individual: Physical Mental Emotional and Spiritual. Nurture these parts of you regularly. Every day is the best, but whatever works for you. The activities you do in order to feed these parts of you are uniquely yours. Don’t do something because someone else says it’s “good for you.” Do what fills your well. 

1. Physical

Get movement into your day. That doesn’t mean run a marathon unless that’s your thing. It can be any kind of movement that you can keep doing for twenty minutes or more. Dance? Stretching? Swimming? It doesn’t have to be a rigorous exercise routine. You can take your dogs on a leisurely stroll around the block or play catch with your little one or indulge in chair yoga. 

2. Mental

The mental well you have will be unique to you. Maybe you read nonfiction to fill your mental well. Maybe you do crosswords or you do math problems. This is about exercising your brain in a way that isn’t writing. 

3. Emotional

Find your joy. Include something that gives you great joy every day or two to three times a week. This doesn’t mean letting your joy steal time from your writing, it means find moments of joy. Some call these moments joypennies. What is it that gives you a moment of joy? 

4. Spiritual

Find what feeds your soul. It can be religion, but doesn’t have to be. What feeds your soul is whatever you decide it is. It can be a walk in the park, music, viewing art by the masters, or petting your animal companion. 

Focus on Progress

When you fear you aren’t a “real” writer, you focus on things that are incomplete or didn’t progress as you wanted. Instead of allowing your fear-motivated-brain to control your focus, focus on the progress you made

Did you learn something new? Did you write for ten minutes? Keep a record of your progress. Decide which type of measure means the most to you and track it. Some writers track pages written, some track word counts. You may need to track the time you spent learning or writing. 

Spreadsheets make your eyes cross? Don’t use spreadsheets. A simple list of tasks will work or a special journal for each project. The point is to measure and track for each step, no matter how small it may be. Then, when your Imposter Syndrome flares, you have something to look at and remind yourself that you are making progress. 

Celebrate Your Wins

Congratulate yourself for every step forward, even the small ones. Every one is a win. 

Celebrations stimulate the release of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine, the “feel-good” chemical, reinforces the experience. It makes you want more of that feeling. So celebrate your writing related wins. Every celebration will feed your writing well positive thoughts and help keep you writing. 

Find (non-food related) ways to reward yourself for the larger wins. (Okay, an occasional food reward is okay, too.) 

Allow yourself time to watch a new movie or to play a game or walk in your favorite park. Make your celebrations proportional, but give it enough time to sink in.

Find Support

Everyone needs support from someone else from time to time. Find support. Anything from one other writer to a writer’s group to a mentor will work. Where do you look for writing support? If you want an IRL person or group, check with your local library or junior college or university. Online groups can be good options. Take an online class and connect with a fellow learner. Check your favorite social media site for fellow writers. 

Give at least as well as you get. Be ready to provide support for your partner or team. Best of all, try giving before you ask for support for yourself. 

Whatever you choose, look for the support that helps you the most. Need an in-depth critique. Look for that ability in your partner. Need specific genre or sensitivity support. Look for someone who has some experience in that area. 

Free Your Writing Life of Imposter Syndrome

Close up image of a typewriter ribbon over a paper upon which are written the words, "the End."

Gather the tools you need to fight imposter syndrome. Keep them somewhere you can find them in the throes of self-doubt. Use them when you need to. 

It’s likely Imposter Syndrome will visit you in more than one way. Many of us never completely shed Imposter Syndrome. But you can supercharge your writing life against Imposter Syndrome and keep moving toward your writing goals. 

Have you experienced Imposter Syndrome? How did you free yourself from it?

17 comments on “How to Escape Imposter Syndrome in Your Writing Life”

  1. Wonderful post, Lynne, on something that bedevils so many of us, myself included. Helpful insights and tips.

    I have experienced imposter syndrome. Focusing on the writing itself, breathing through the fear and uncertainty, getting feedback on my writing, improving and then putting the work out there helped me—I see this process as essential. The dopamine release is real, as is the the result of creating stories, novels, blog posts etc. Also, seeing some very talented writers I know personally go through this reminds me that it isn’t just me who feels like an imposter.

  2. Require a certain degree of professionalism and competence.

    And then dump Impostor Syndrome.

    The first step in becoming a writer is to recognize the chasm between your writing and what you thought your writing should be. It's humbling, but the only way you can set about correcting and improving - until you meet your own standards, developed by reading and learning.

    The next important one is to realize you can learn anything you need to - and dump the time-wasting Impostor Syndrome: you are now a pro, you can tell when you need to acquire a new skill, and, although you aren't perfect (hint: no one is), you ARE good enough. Questioning that wastes time and energy and needlessly agitates your inner competence.

    You don't need it any more than a plumber does.

    It sneaks back on occasions - recognize the fear, and deal with it anyway.

    I finally stopped when I realized the entries in my Fear Journal were getting boringly repetitive. For a while I noted: 'Oops! There it is again!' And then I finally dropped it. I have gobs yet to learn - but I'm NOT an impostor. I know what I'm doing. Like a plumber.

    1. Yes, Alicia, recognizing that you are a professional writer is essential. I'm so glad you found this a successful way to defeat I.S., but for some, it's easier said than done. I love your comparison to a plumber. Thanks for sharing.

  3. We writers become our own worst enemies when we compare ourselves to others--especially those who have more success. A terrific, in-depth essay on a syndrome that can do great harm. If we let it.

    My mantra has become: Don't compare. It's not a contest. Just write. Do what works for you.

  4. Great article, Lynette! I loved your solutions, too. They will help with many of the self-doubts that most writers struggle with. Thank you for a thoughtful and caring post.

  5. Thank you for sharing this article. To fight against the I.S., for me, I think the core is to find self-consistency, be it good results or bad results. But the paradox is that the only way for me to accept who I am, most of the time, is the "dead" results I get or the "successful" destination I reach. this "result-directing" thinking mode is popular in schools or companies...Being in the middle is agonizing...

    1. Serena, Interesting approach. Results thinking can be effective, as long as you don't judge or compare your results. And yes, being in the middle is agonizing. My heart goes out to anyone stuck there.

  6. Thank you for this, Lynette! I definitely struggle with imposter syndrome. The advice to hold onto my why has been one of the guiding points that keeps me going when my feeling brain tries to overwhelm me. Bringing joy into my life is also a huge part of continuing to press on.

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